Without collective action, digital divide will exacerbate inequality, says Commonwealth Secretary-General at UC Berkeley

Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, delivered a keynote address at the University of California (UC) Berkeley today, where she highlighted the urgency of bridging the persistent digital divide to ensure everyone can reap the full benefits of technology.

In her address at the Berkeley Innovation Forum in California on 20 April 2023, she underscored the unparalleled capacity of technology to transform the world in areas ranging from health to agriculture, education and infrastructure.

The biggest barrier to realising this potential, the Secretary-General noted, is the digital divide within and among countries and regions, including in the Commonwealth.

Despite some progress in recent years, a third of the world’s population continues to suffer from the impact of the digital divide, even though 95 per cent of the world’s population lives within range of a mobile broadband network.

Secretary-General Scotland stressed that without access to basic connectivity, many people are being left behind, trapped in a cycle of poverty, inequality, and exclusion that undermines the prospects of sustainable development.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General added:

“The digital divide is a key challenge, one which Heads of Government from across the Commonwealth have given me an unequivocal mandate to resolve. In this regard, the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda is pioneering work to establish the key principles of sustainable investment in digital infrastructure, bringing together our member countries and multi-disciplinary experts to tackle challenges in digital access, quality, affordability and gender inclusion.”

She further mentioned a recently discussed consortium of global tech firms, start-ups, non-profits and universities, which is led by the Commonwealth Secretariat and aims to help small states leverage the benefits of innovative technologies and bridge the digital divide.

“But we cannot do it alone. This is where we need your help,” Secretary-General Scotland told more than 100 senior tech executives, innovators, philanthropists and academics gathered in San Francisco Bay Area.

Recognising the unique position of California as a world-leading centre for technology and innovation, she underscored the critical role of the state’s tech sector in helping to bridge the global digital divide, including the digital skills gap.

Secretary-General Patricia Scotland added:

“I invite you to collaborate with us to unlock the potential of technology and innovation for a more connected, equal, prosperous and sustainable world. With collective action, we can bridge the digital divide and ensure that the benefits of technology are more equally distributed and are accessible to all, ultimately making a meaningful different in people’s lives.”

The Secretary-General’s address was a key segment of the 2023 Berkeley Innovation Forum, hosted by UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

The forum aims to promote open innovation – which enables the exchange of ideas across organisations for social good – as a tool for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and addressing global challenges.

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